United Torah Judaism inks coalition deal

Porush receives threats after vote sparks infighting among hassidic groups.

Porush  248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozlimski)
Porush 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozlimski)
MK Meir Porush received telephone threats on Wednesday night, hours after a controversial faction vote which sparked infighting among vying hassidic groups. In a conversation with The Jerusalem Post, Porush verified that he had received telephone threats. But he refused to reveal their content except to say that they were not death threats. United Torah Judaism signed a coalition agreement with the Likud late on Wednesday morning after a compromise was reached on conversion reforms. The UTJ faction met and elected MK Moshe Gafni, No. 2 on its Knesset list, to head the legislature's Finance Committee, and not party leader Ya'acov Litzman, who has held the job three times. Gafni's victory was facilitated when he received support from MK Meir Porush, No. 3 on the UTJ list. Thanks to the support of Porush and Gafni's ally MK Uri Maklev, Gafni won Wednesday's vote 3-2. Porush is a member of the hassidic-oriented Agudat Yisrael while Gafni is a member of the Lithuanian Degel Hatorah. Agudat Yisrael and Degel Hatorah make up UTJ. Porush's decision to support Gafni instead of Litzman, of the Gerer hassidic sect, was considered by haredi sources to be a breach of traditional political loyalties. Nevertheless, Porush was under pressure from his own Shlomei Emunim hassidic sect to vote against Litzman. Porush's sect is angry at Litzman and the Gerer hassidic sect for torpedoing Porush's campaign to become mayor of Jerusalem. The Ger Hassidim supported Nir Barkat, a secular candidate, instead of Porush, in November's municipal election. Porush's vote against Litzman was seen as an act of revenge. The telephone threats against Porush were a clear sign of the tension between the Ger Hassidim and a constellation of smaller hassidic sects within Agudat Yisrael. Sources close to Agudat Yisrael did not rule out the possibility that Litzman would attempt to have Porush removed from the party for violating voting rules and supporting Degel Hatorah. In his defense, Porush argued that the position of Finance Committee chairman was not the most senior political position. Rather, deputy health minister, the position offered to Litzman after Gafni took the Finance Committee chair, is a more senior position. It remains to seen whether the tension between Porush and Litzman will lead to a power struggle. It is still unclear whether hassidic sects such as Belz and Viznitz, the largest sects after the Gerer Hassidim, will support Porush or Litzman. Litzman said before the vote that if he lost the Finance Committee, he would not take another job. So, Porush got the job of deputy education minister, and first-time MK Menahem Moses got the deputy ministerial position from which he will control the Health Ministry. Moses spent his career building nursing homes around the country. He represents the Viznitz and Sanz Hasidim, which built Netanya's Laniado Medical Center. "I will help and take care of everyone," Moses told the Post. "Believe me, I know what I have fallen into. I've dealt with health my whole life." UTJ's joining expands Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's coalition to 74 MKs. Although all the portfolios have already been allocated, coalition chairman Ze'ev Elkin said more factions were welcome to join. He even included a clause in UTJ's coalition agreement that left open the possibility of more factions becoming part of the coalition. "Kadima is, of course, still invited," Elkin said. "We aren't locking the door to them. The Knesset is a dynamic place." The main obstacle that delayed UTJ's joining the coalition was a dispute over conversions. In cryptic wording, the 38th clause of the coalition agreement calls for all conversions to be performed "as detailed in Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar's letter to Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv on the 28th of the Jewish month of Adar 5769." A copy of the letter is not included in the agreement. However, excerpts are: "Rabbis and Rabbinic Judges will ratify conversions done in accordance with Halacha after [the convert] accepts the yoke of adhering to commandments. This condition is necessary even after the fact." This clause alludes to retroactive annulling of conversions. About a year ago a rabbinic court in Ashdod made headlines in the news media by retroactively annulling the conversion of a woman more than a decade after it took place. Israel Beiteinu attempted to prevent rabbinical courts from being able to annul conversions once performed. Shas agreed. However, UTJ demanded that rabbinical courts retain this right. Jonny Hadi contributed to this report.